Pharaoh

Written by Wilbur Smith

In ancient Egypt, Pharaoh Tamose lies dying of a battle wound, and his weak, corrupt son Utteric seizes power, to the horror of General Taita, who thinks Rameses, Tamose’s younger son, should be Pharaoh. Taita is the wealthiest, most brilliant, and second most powerful man in Egypt, so multitalented it’s ridiculous, beloved by gods and men and women—and yet somehow he can’t manage to deal with Utteric. (Oh, yes, Taita’s a eunuch, although that’s barely mentioned in this book.) Vowing to help Rameses overthrow Utteric, Taita flees with Rameses to Sparta, ruled by Taita’s friend Hurotas and Taita’s beloved former pupil, Rameses’s aunt Tehuti. Rameses falls in love with their superbly beautiful daughter, Serrena, and Taita, who adores Serrena and Rameses, ensures they marry without angering Serrena’s dozens of royal suitors. That’s right: Taita comes up with the Oath of the Sundered Horse, so when Serrena is abducted by Utteric’s thugs, a bizarre, inside-out version of the Trojan War ensues. Utteric imprisons and degrades Serrena, but Taita rescues her, and they embark on the task of destroying the evil Utteric and setting Rameses and Serrena on the thrones of Egypt.

Taita is one of the most outrageous “Mary Sues” ever. He’s a skilled surgeon, a master general, an inventor of every conceivable item, a structural engineer, and a superb rider. He’s of divine descent (he’s sure of it). He’s also innately modest and a great judge of character. We know this because Taita tells us so frequently. He’s got a special friend in the goddess Inanna, who comes and sits on his lap (literally) and gives him great tips to help him succeed. Pharaoh is a vastly annoying book, and multiple mentions of stirrups in ancient Egypt don’t improve it.